Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ready for Spring

     So, I think my palette has officially bid farewell to winter.  I've had my fill (and, sadly, so has my waistline!) of chili, stews and soups.  Instead, I 'm craving things like potato salad, sliced tomatoes and grilled hot dogs.  Can I get an "amen" from anyone?
     The skies here have been pretty gray and gloomy for the last few days.  But, as I drove my kids to school this morning, I caught a glimpse of sunshine.  Not the real sun, but something just as rejuvenating...
daffodils! Lots of them!  Woohoo!!  Spring may actually be upon us and I, for one, am more than ready.
     To celebrate those first shoots of spring, I felt like whipping up a little sunshine, myself. 

White Chocolate Fruit Tarts
Don't these babies just personify sunshine?  The sweet/tart factor of the fresh fruit pairs so perfectly with the cool, creamy filling.  Plus, they are super simple to whip up and don't even require turning on the oven.  
Here's the recipe in case you're palette's hankerin' a little sunshine, too:

White Chocolate Fruit Tarts 

     6 prepared tart shells
(I used Keebler Graham Cracker Shells but you could certainly use a homemade graham or pastry shell)
1 10oz package of vanilla or white baking chips, melted and cooled
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 8oz block of cream cheese, softened
Fresh or canned fruit (such as berries, kiwi, mandarin orange segments)
1/2 cup apricot preserves

In a microwave safe bowl, melt vanilla chips, stirring at 30 second intervals.  Allow the melted chips to cool slightly.  Add the heavy cream and softened cream cheese to the cooled white chocolate and mix with a mixer until creamy and fully incorporated.  Divide the filling among the tart shells and arrange fruit over the filling.  In a small, microwave safe bowl, heat apricot preserves until just warm and the consistency of thick syrup (about 15-20 seconds).  With a pastry brush, brush the apricot glaze over the fruit.  Chill for several hours before serving.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"I'm melting, I'm melting..." (said in my best Wicked Witch of the West voice)

     Well, I am thankful to report that my neck of the woods missed out on the huge snow/ice storm that is wreaking havoc on much of the country today!  Still, the snow is falling outside my window and the house is actually shaking from the 50 mph. wind gusts.  Not a good hair day, for sure! 
     All this wintry weather has me fantasizing about sandy beaches and fruity cocktails served in tacky souvenir cups by tanned men wearing nothing but....... What? A girl can dream, right?!
Heck, at this point, I would just settle for a temps above freezing.  I would love to feel my toes again. 
     Since the weather forecast doesn't look too promising for any potential thawing, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  These adorable cookies were all over blogland last year so I bookmarked a few sites in hopes of giving them a go.   The cookies really were quite simple to make.  I followed the simple, step-by-step tutorial from http://www.trulycustomcakery.com/.   I usually ice my cookies in royal icing or glace but, this time I wanted to try a new recipe for 'Meringue Buttercream" that I found on http://www.karenscookies.net/.  Karen is an amazing decorator with a website that not only sells cookie making supplies, but also offers lots of recipes and tutorials.  The meringue buttercream recipe is quite tasty and keeps a nice sheen even after drying.  It doesn't dry as hard as royal icing but still, I was able to stack some cookies without damaging the icing.
     So,  if you are snowed in this week or just feel as if you've reached your melting point, why not try making these fun Melted Snowman Cookies?  At least we can dream of spring.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quintessential Quiche

Quintessential Quiche
     Every cook needs a great, basic quiche recipe in their arsenal.  Really, the quiche is the cook's ultimate multitasker.  Think about it -- quiche is perfect for the family breakfast, the Sunday brunch, the ladies' luncheon or the light dinner.  Heck, it's even tasty cold from the fridge for a quick snack! 
     Here is my go to quiche recipe.  Though the custard base stays the same, the fillers can easily be swapped.  Got a handful of fresh spinach or asparagus spears?  Throw 'em in!  Leftover sausage or crumbled bacon?  Yummy!  Looking for a vegetarian option?  No problem -- just leave out the meat and amp up the veggies (think red bell peppers, zucchini, squash or mushrooms). An abundance of fresh herbs from the garden?  The perfect addition!  Got a hunk of fontina in the fridge?  Grate it up and throw it in!  This recipe is really just a starting point for your own tastes and imagination.
     If you feel like channeling you inner Martha Stewart, then make the pastry from scratch.  Otherwise, a ready made pie crust works perfectly well.  So, what are you waiting for?  I bet you have most of the ingredients in the fridge right now.

Quintessential Quiche

1 unbaked 9" prepared pie crust
4 whole eggs
                                      1/2 cup cream (half n' half or whole milk may be subbed -- just use what you've got!)
1/2 cup milk
a dash of cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup cooked ham, diced
2 Tablespoons fresh chives, snipped

In a small skillet melt butter.  Saute chopped onion until translucent.  Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk the eggs, cream, milk and cayenne pepper.  Season with salt.  Sprinkle half of the cheddar cheese in the ready made pie crust.  Top the cheese with the sauted onions, ham and remaining cheese.  Pour the egg custard over the filling and with the back of a large spoon, gently press the meat and veggies to submerse in the custard.  Sprinkle the top with the snipped chives.  Place the quiche on a baking sheet to avoid any spills in transit and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the custard is set.  Remove from the oven and allow the quiche to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Need a little comfort?

     Whether you feel like curling up on the couch or kickin' up your boots, I've got the perfect soup for you: Texas Two-Step Soup.  Think of it as comfort on a spoon with just enough "umph" to get your motor going.
     As much as I enjoy baking, there is nothing I enjoy more than stirring up a big pot of soup.  Frankly, I don't think I know how to make a small pot of soup.  Baking is all about precision but soup making just lends itself to a "little bit of this and a little bit of that." 
     My daughter, Ellie, loves soup of any kind and this recipe is no exception.  I found the original recipe years ago when I was on a "gifts in a jar" kick and have tweaked it to our family's liking.  The soup's official name is Texas Two-Step but we have a new name for it in our house.  While I was fixing this recipe last night, Ellie peered into the pot and said, "Ooooh yummy! You're making that square dance soup!"
     So, whether you call it Texas Two-Step or "Square Dance Soup", it's sure to make your tastebuds sing.


1 lb. ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
7 cups water
1 envelope (1.6 oz) brown gravy mix
1 (16oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (15) can of mexican-style corn (the kind with red and green bell peppers added)
1 (16 oz) can black beans
2 T. dried chili powder
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or, to taste)
8 oz. small, dried pasta (such as ditalini or shells) 

In a large stockpot, brown the ground beef until no longer pink.  Drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat.  Add the chopped onion to the pot and saute until translucent.  Add the water, gravy mix, vegetables (no need to drain any of the canned veggies) and the seasonings to the pot and bring to a simmer.  Allow soup to gently simmer for about 25 minutes.  Add the dried pasta to the soup and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes or until pasta is tender.  Adjust seasonings, if needed.  Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream, a little shredded Pepper Jack cheese and a sprinkling of green onions, if you like.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Baby, it's cold outside.

     We are definitely feeling the chill around my neck the woods.  Several inches of the white stuff fell last night and more is expected over the next few days.  I love waking to the surprise of a world covered in white and hearing my children excitedly call each other to come look out the window!  Soggy wet gloves, red cheeks, steaming mugs of cocoa and fresh snow cream are all good things in my book.
     And since it sorta feels like we are living in an igloo around here, this cake could not have been ordered at a better time.  A client requested a birthday cake for a little boy with a penchant for penguins. (say that ten times fast!)  Quite honestly, creating animal depictions on cakes always makes me nervous because truly I am not very artistic.  This little guy was a culmination of inspiration found on the internet: coloring pages, a fondant penguin tutorial and penguin cakes floating on the web.
     I base coated the 8" chocolate layer cake with a frosty blue buttercream and then just smeared white frosting in drifts.  A little edible sparkle helps the snow glisten.  I used various round and oval cutters to cut  the body of the penguin out of black and white fondant.  I used a little heart cutter for the white face and free formed the beak from orange fondant.  A little pink luster dust gives his cheeks a rosy glow.  I think my favorite parts are the scarf and hat!
     Looking at this penguin makes me happy!  I think I feel the need to gather the kids for a family movie night.  Maybe "March of the Penguins" or "Happy Feet"?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Perfect Pumpkin Bread

     I wanted to create a yummy holiday treat to share with my neighbors so, I pulled out the trusty pumpkin bread recipe.  And while this really is a tasty pumpkin bread, I decided it needed a little more "ooomph" for the holidays.  On a whim, I replaced all the liquid called for in the recipe with fresh orange juice and threw in a few handfuls of chocolate chips and toasted pecans.  Still thinking it needed a bit more tweaking, I topped each loaf with a scrumptious streusel topping.  Finally, going for broke, I drizzled a sweet vanilla glaze over each baked loaf and Voila! the perfect gift to share with the neighbors.
     My sweet kids filled a basket with the packaged loaves and went door-to-door sharing the home-baked goodness with our friends. Evidently, one of my neighbors especially enjoyed the bread --  she called me almost immediately to see if she might order a dozen loaves of the bread to give as holiday gifts.  So after baking a combined two dozen loaves of this amazing bread, I can assure you no candle or home fragrance spray can match the warm and spicy, comforting scent of Perfect Pumpkin Bread!  It's perfect for breakfast, snacking, with coffee, snacking, simple dessert, snacking...